Saturday, March 20, 2010

More College Application Process

One thing I always found amusing is College Admission Officers expected the applicant to know what he wanted to do the rest of his life at a ripe age of 17.  From someone who's been there, let me tell you the truth -- most college students don't graduate with the same goals in life they had as they entered.  This is because during your tenure in college, you will be exposed to many new opportunities as well as your view points will change as you become more mature amongst your peers.

What should I put as my proposed major on my college application?

The most realistic answer you should put in your college application would be "undecided".  This is also strategically a very smart decision.  If you are attempting to apply to a competitive major, you may end up excluding yourself from a school whereas you may have otherwise been accepted.  It is ALWAYS much easier to change your major after you get your foot in the door.  Sometimes this process is as simple as deciding to take different courses while you are in college.  I suspect I did not get into some of the schools I applied to because I listed biochemistry as my major for all of the schools I applied to.  I still ended up in a top prestigious college, but would have been nice to have more options.

What should I do after I get accepted to my University/College?

The best advice I can give is to spend your first year or two taking a variety of courses you may or may not be interested in.  Do not focus on a specific major or decide too early like I did that you want to go to medical school or become a biochemist.  One of the deciding factors of your decision to attend a specific college should be a school that offers a wide variety of courses, not just the ones you think you may be interested in.

You may find out during your first year of University that you are actually interested in archeology, underwater basket weaving, or even becoming a chef.  The point I'm trying to make is high school is surprisingly inadequate in showing you the wealth of opportunities and careers life offers.  University should be the place where you discover your "calling".  Some schools indirectly encourage this by having "required" courses that you need to take before you graduate.

Personally, I went to school convinced that I will become a Biochemist.  As hard as I tried, I realized during my first two years of school that I hated lab work and just wasn't really fascinated with my classes. Only until I went to a sister college and studied under an economics professor who worked for Michael Milken did I truly find out what I was passionate about.  You will also be surprised to find that a professor may make all the difference in the world and show you a career you may have never considered before.

Shouldn't I take courses that prepare me for a job after college?

Unless you are preparing to become an engineer, computer scientist, or a future PhD program, what you majored in college doesn't really matter much.  Seriously.

What matters is your success in the major you have chosen.  My advice would be to major in areas that come naturally for you and that is "easy" for you.  Some individuals just have a knack for mathematics, others English.  Find what works for you.  Like high school, your future employers and graduate school pay more attention to what grades you got vs. what courses you took.  This applies to even individuals who eventually end up going to Medical School (MD), Law School (JD), or Business School (MBA).  I cannot tell you how many people I knew from my university ended up becoming attorneys, doctors, and going into business with majors such as Political Science, English, Sociology, etc.  Of course, it goes without saying for those individuals who went to Medical School still had to take the required prerequisite courses for the specific graduate school.

I graduated undergraduate school and went into equity research with a Biology background (with an additional Economics degree that I had to work very hard for since I realized my calling 2-years into college).  My colleagues graduated with degrees ranging everywhere from English to Government and Psychology, etc.  As most employers know and I later on recognized, new hires more or less have to learn their future business skills "on the job".  What college provided was the environment to mature and to learn "how to think".  Regardless of your major, good grades are the proxies that employers use to decide if you will succeed in a future position.  It is always easy enough during your interview to make up how you are able to parlay your degree (whatever it may be) to the position you are applying for.

Lastly, enjoy your time in College.  College is an opportunity for you to make lasting business relationships and friendships, as well as for some of you, the last time your parents will be fully supporting you.  Understand that College and University is where you will start your preparation for what you will be doing the rest of your life.  Your parents can no longer live vicariously through you, and it is time for you to make your own decisions.

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